be in Afghanistan
In people’s court
Almost fifteen hundred women,
By Mahvish Ahmad
It is early afternoon, Sunday. Almost fifteen hundred people have gathered around Taunsa Barrage on the banks of the River Indus. It is here that the water overflowed, burst embankments and, in the blink of an eye, washed away whole lives and sacred memories. And it is here, that women, children and men have gathered to transform their loss, their grief, their anger, their truth, into words of resistance. They sit in a semi-circle on soft silver sand pushed on shore by the flood, to participate in a Lok Sath – or People’s Court. They will tell their story of what caused the floods, to issue a people’s judgment, and to demand justice.
It has been three and a half months since the waters from the north hit the bastis and worlds of Muzaffargarh District. In the weeks leading up to the gathering, word about influential and powerful families deliberately breaching dykes to save their own land (and inundate those of the poor) has spread far and wide among those present, their families, and their friends.
Hearing similar stories along the entire stretch of the Punjabi Indus, Shahbaz Sharif formed a three-party Flood Inquiry Tribunal two months ago, in early October. The aim: To explore the causes of the flood and to identify those responsible.
A People’s Court
"There is an old saying in Seraiki," Zafar Lund, a local activist starts out. Standing in the middle of the circle, in his black jacket and brown shalwar kameez, he clutches the microphone in his hands, and states, "You lie in court, but at a Sath, you tell the truth."
"We all recognise the Sath as an age-old practice among the Seraiki," Mushtaq Gadi, an engaged anthropologist, continued. "Today, it has evolved, because the time and place has changed. But the principle is the same: To resolve disputes through a people’s deliberation."
"In Lahore, they have set up a Flood Inquiry Court," Zafar continues. "It is supposed to uncover the causes of these floods."
Since its inception, the Punjab Flood Inquiry Tribunal has come under increasing criticism from activists in the worst hit areas, as well as among those present. Many say they come and "do nothing".
The bulk of formal witnesses at the inquiry have been drawn from governmental departments – few or none of those gathered were heard. "Sources tell us that the inquiry has only recorded and formally integrated a little over 140 witness statements into their report," say Hashim Bin Rashid and Zain Moulvi, two recently graduated students from Lahore who have been researching the Punjab inquiry. "We have also heard that they claim to have interviewed everyone. But look around, there are fifteen hundred people here today, and this is only one of the barrages they are investigating. How can they possibly have heard all of those wishing, and deserving, to be heard?"
"The inquiry required that you submit a petition to the sessions court and the District Coordination Officer (DCO) to appear before the Tribunal," Mushtaq explains over a cup of tea at a nearby truck stop. "Fazal (a local activist) approached them with a request to appear before the court. But the DCO did not accept his petition." As a result, very few had appeared before the Tribunal, during the inquiry’s two visits to the area. It seemed an arduous task for those who have lost everything, and an impossible one for unpopular local activists.
"Even if we could appear before a Tribunal, how would we make sure they understood us? When people visit from America, Canada, Scandinavia, Europe, they bring translators. How can those from Lahore understand the Seraiki language? The language of the court, and the language of the people is different."
An older man, with his head wrapped in a white turban and his body cloaked in a white kurta and lacha, declares, "We have no rights. The rich have rights, the politicians have rights. The officials have rights. But we have no rights."
"You people. You come with your maps, your work, your stomachs that never fill up. We are the people... the children of those who love the river. The river is not to be observed, like you do, it is to be understood, like we do. You send your money here to impoverish us. But we will stop you. We will not lose faith."
This is Muhammad Ismail. He is a member of the Sindho Bachao Tarla (Save River Indus), a cluster of organised fisherfolks who were forcibly resettled following the $140 million Taunsa Barrage Emergency Rehabilitation and Modernisation Project, a project overseen by the World Bank last year.
"The Tribunal did not bother to hold either the World Bank or its contractors accountable," Zafar recounts later.
Hashim and Zain, who have been following the inquiry confirm Zafar’s accusation. "Sources tell us that representatives from the World Bank or its contractors did not appear before the Tribunal. They claim they interviewed everyone. But it doesn’t sound like they did."
Hirrak, a local activist group based in Kot Addu, showed a short documentary at the Sath’s poetry event the evening before. In it, Zafar Lund had explained how the rehabilitation project had exacerbated the consequences of the floods.
"The Lok Sath holds the World Bank responsible for the various structural factors that were the fundamental causes of the floods," a press release, released the same day, declared.
Flooding the poor, saving the rich
Ashraf Rind, the District Nazim, walks up in his clean-cut dark blue shalwar kameez and black jacket. He is met by cheers from the crowd, having become a local hero for taking on those in power, accusing them of deliberately redirecting the floods away from their lands.
One of the major causes behind the flooding is the bursting of embankment on the left side of the barrage, i.e. the same Abbaswala Bund that was left weakened following the rehabilitation project. The land on the right side of the barrage has been left intact following the floods. They continue to grow lush cash crops for the richer families in the area. According to Rind, this land, also known as ponds, was supposed to be flooded first, since the land on the other side, behind the Abbaswala Bund, was populated.
"Those pond areas should have been flooded. Instead, our officers call us and say, "if you touch even one foot of that area, there is no saving you." His words are met with clapping and cheering.
Rind continues to point out that this land also has additional protection via the construction of illegal embankments. "As a matter of principle, they should have been removed when we knew about the floods."
He goes on to speak about the gates that are attached to the barrage, and the failure of the Irrigation Department to open them despite their knowledge of the oncoming floods from the north. According to some, locals congregated by the barrage on the day of the floods, to push the Irrigation Officials to open the gates. They refused, and have since been accused of exacerbating the floods.
"We have not received watan cards or rations. We have gotten no aid, and no help. They listen only to the politicians, and the officials. Not to the poor." Introduced as a bazurgh, this elder addresses the crowd, with shaking hands holding the mike up to his mouth.
"There are widows who have received nothing," says Zainab Bibi — another member of Sindho Bachao Tarla — as she sits cross-legged on the right hand side of the older speaker. "The media-walle, the ration-walle, the politicians, they have all come through, but we have still received nothing."
A Sath with ourselves
It is now mid afternoon, and the Sath is drawing to a close. The day has seen women and men, young and old, address the fifteen hundred seated around them. But all of those who have come up to speak have either been locals living in the area, or local activists. Ashraf Rind, the District Nazim, was the only government official present.
"We asked the World Bank to come to this Sath. We invited the Irrigation Department. We invited the MPAs and the MNAs. And we invited the Director of the Project (Rehabilitation Project), Qadir Sahib. But none of them came."
"They have shown up at other Saths," Mushtaq explains. "But they did not show up today. They have their excuses, but it is inexcusable." Many present are not surprised. "We’re poor," some say. "We have no say."
Zafar finishes by rejecting the inquiry. "We reject their work. And we do not want to be associated with them, their decisions, their anything."
Instead, it is the people, he argues, that should be sovereign. "We do not believe in them. But we can believe in us. In this People’s Court."
Afghan refugees choose to go home as the situation worsens in Pakistan
By Zia Ur Rehman
"Pakistan had been a haven for war-affected Afghans for decades, but now Pakistan itself is facing the same problems of terrorism and militancy that Afghanistan has been suffering for the last three decades. We are going back to Afghanistan because Pakistan no longer offers jobs, security and peace of mind," says Jahan Sher while returning to his home town Mazar-e-Sharif. The economy of Afghanistan has improved during the last four years, he boasts.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) claims that more Afghan refugees have returned to their homeland from Pakistan this year than in the previous year. Increasing incidents of harassment and arrests by Pakistan’s law enforcement agencies following terrorist activities in the country, poor socio-economic conditions, floods in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and increase in forcible deportation are key factors compelling the refugees to go back, refugees’ leaders and rights activists believe.
Pakistan has been host to the world’s largest refugee population. Millions of Afghans fled to Pakistan in the 1980s after the Soviet invasion and during the rule of Taliban in the late 1990s.
Currently there are some 1.6 million registered Afghans in Pakistan, with 45 per cent residing in refugees camps and the rest scattered amongst the host communities. Last year, Pakistan and the UNHCR signed an agreement to extend the stay of Afghan refugees until the end of 2010. About 3.7 million refugees have returned to Afghanistan in the past 9 years, according to UNCHR.
"A total of 1,09,383 Afghans have gone back in March-October through the UNCHR’s return programme, while the number of refugees returning to Afghanistan in 2009 was 51,290," said Duniya Aslam Khan, UNHCR Pakistan’s Assistant Public Officer. "The number of returnees this year has increased by 51 per cent when compared to the number of people that returned in 2009. Refugees registered in the country are receiving a better assistance, transport and reintegration package, including a grant of $100," added Khan.
"Most of the returnees cited the difficult situation in Pakistan, worst economic factors and improvement in some provinces of Afghanistan as the important reasons for their decision to return," said Nader Farhad, a UNHCR spokesperson in Kabul.
"After the continuing terrorist attacks on offices of Pakistan’s security agencies, the crackdown against Afghan refugees, both registered and unregistered, has been accelerated across the country. Thousands of refugees have been arrested and forcibly deported," said Haji Sohrab, the representative of Afghan refugees appointed by Afghan Consulate in Karachi. "Many Afghan refugees who do not have Proof of Registration (PoR), a document given to these refugees jointly by the government of Pakistan and UNCHR, face strict action by the police," informed Sohrab.
"Thousands of Afghans, especially students in religious seminaries, daily wage workers and scavengers, have been arrested under the Foreign Registration Act (FRA) during the last two years and deported to their homeland," said Iqbal Shah Khattak, a law teacher at Urdu University, Karachi.
However, refugees complain that police and law enforcement authorities have time and again raided houses in the refugee camps and other areas and arrested even those community members who had PoR.
"Refugees lived without any legal document for 28 years, till the 2007 registration when they were provided the PoR cards. This gave rise to a lot of legal problems. They could be stopped, searched and arrested under the FRA," said Khattak, who has worked extensively on refugee rights in Karachi. Afghans in Pakistan have been regularly complaining about harassment and detention at the hands of police, he added.
"The registration process is flawed, leaving many refugees unregistered. Hence, these refugees are vulnerable to harassment and possible deportation," maintained Sohrab. "The registration process was also marred by problems like lack of guidance, transport, translators and female registration."
Amid crackdown against illegal Afghan immigrants across the country, industries are now forced by the government not to hire foreign workers without documentary proof, thus adding to the employment problems of refugees.
Denying the reports of arresting refugees with PoR cards, police claim they are arresting only those Afghan immigrants who are living illegally and without documentary proof. "We arrest illegal Afghan immigrants under FRA as well as the refugees involved in crimes," said police officials, requesting anonymity. Media reports suggest hundreds of Afghan refugees have been detained by police across the country as a pre-emptive security sweep ahead of Muharram.
Majority of refugees are returning to Afghanistan because of worst flooding in Pakistan. Twenty out of 29 refugee camps across the province were swept away by flooding, destroying thousands of homes and leaving about 85,500 refugees homeless. One of the worst hit refugee villages is Azakhel in Nowshera where 23,000 people lost homes.
"Our houses were completely destroyed by the floods and the government is not able to help us," said Khan Muhammad, an Afghan refugee living in Azakhel camp. "We are planning to go back to Afghanistan where, at least, some of our residential problems would be solved."
Instead of going back to their villages, most of the returning refugees are settling in cities where they could find jobs easily. "Due to the prevailing insurgency in Pakistan’s tribal areas and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, thousands of Pakistani Pashtuns are coming to Afghanistan for jobs," said Basir Ahmed Hotak, an Afghan journalist.
Majority of refugees hailing from worst-hit provinces of Afghanistan, where security situation is still critical, were reluctant to go back to their homeland. "Majority of those returning belong to northern provinces like Mazar-e-Sharif and Herat where the security situation is better," informed Arshad Khan, a refugee from Helmand. "How can we return to places like Helmand and Kandahar where security situation is worst?"
UNHCR’s officials and refugee leaders confide to TNS that a large number of repatriated refugees are coming back to Pakistan after taking money from UNHCR. "Going back to Afghanistan was a mistake as the security and economic situation is not good in Afghanistan," said Hafeez Shah, who recently returned to Karachi from Afghanistan.
Some of the returning refugees complain that there is no shelter, electricity, schools, hospitals and employment opportunities in Afghanistan which compelled them to come back to Pakistan.
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), in its report tilted ‘Afghan Refugees in Pakistan: Push Comes to Shove’ expressed concerns over closure of refugees camps and intimidation of refugees at the hand of police.
But Najamuddin Khan, Federal Minister for SAFRON (Ministry of State and Frontier Region) said their repatriation was completely on voluntary basis and the government wants their respectful return. The ministry had suggested to UNHCR to give $5000 to each Afghan family returning to Afghanistan for shelter and livelihood there.
(The writer is an independent journalist and researcher and works on human rights, conflict and development. Email: [email protected])
The MONEY trail
WikiLeaks may just have
By Rahimullah Yusufzai
While discussing funding for the militants, the US diplomats in their cables, as disclosed by the WikiLeaks, talk about Saudi Arabia being a major source of the funds reaching the extremists.
This isn’t exactly a revelation as it was known for years that private Saudi donations continue to sustain militants fighting the US and its allies. But the information to this effect has now been pieced together and given a diplomatic sanctity by none else than American diplomats operating in the region.
No aspersions have been cast on the government of Saudi Arabia or on any other ruler in the Gulf countries, which are home to wealthy Arabs who give large donations to charities and other worthy, mostly Islamic, causes. The governments in the oil-rich Arab countries are firmly committed to fight al-Qaeda and its likeminded militant groups, which have declared war against all these pro-West regimes. For al-Qaeda in particular, there would be no greater victory than overthrowing the royal family ruling Saudi Arabia. In a way, Osama bin Laden’s ‘jehad’ is in equal measure against the Saudi kingdom along with the US and Israel.
However, it is no secret that the government of Saudi Arabia and a number of other Arab countries were enthusiastic supporters and financiers of the Afghan mujahideen fighting the Soviet occupying forces and the communist regime in Afghanistan in the 1980s and early 1990s. At the time it was an official policy of Riyadh and other Arab capitals largely at the behest of the US to offer every possible support to the mujahideen to defeat the Red Army in Afghanistan and push back communism.
The Saudi government in particular provided as much money as the US to the cause of the Afghan mujahideen. All this money was sent through Pakistan where the seven Afghan jehadi groups had their headquarters along with training camps in which the mujahideen fighters were taught the use of modern weapons. As backing for the Afghan jehad had official sanction, this policy motivated a large number of Arab nationals to come to Afghanistan via Pakistan and take part in the war against the Soviet and Afghan government forces. Many of those Arabs are now part of al-Qaeda and other militants groups and the source of trouble not only for Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries, but also the West and its allies worldwide.
The Saudis have also been providing huge amounts of funds to build and sustain mosques, seminaries and Islamic centres all over the world. These donations are mostly going to charity work and are provided by both the Saudi government and individuals and private organisations.
The source of Saudi funding for militants mentioned in US diplomatic cables and revealed by WikiLeaks is something different and is happening even now. It isn’t a thing of the past, but has ramifications for the present and the future. It surely would be a matter of great concern for the US that sources within Saudi Arabia as pointed out by its diplomats in their dispatches were even now financing al-Qaeda and likeminded militant networks. This obviously is happening secretly and is difficult to detect and stop.
The Saudi authorities and the US along with other countries and international law-enforcement organisations and banking systems have been making efforts to stop the flow of funds to militants, but making foolproof arrangements and intercepting every transfer of money is obviously impossible. The informal money-transfer methods of ‘hundi’ and ‘hawala’ continue to function even though their share of business has been curtailed and this is evident from the big increase in transactions taking place now via the formal banking system. The rise in the volume of remittances through banks to countries such as Pakistan with a large number of migrant workers in the Gulf and Western countries is due to the fact that they cannot or don’t want to send money via the ‘hundi’ and ‘hawala’ system.
Those donating money to al-Qaeda and likeminded militant groups believe in their cause or simply support them for standing up to the US and rest of the West. The anti-US sentiment is strong in the Arab and other Islamic countries on account of Washington’s unconditional support for Israel and its invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq. These Arab donors are looking for Islamic causes not only for political reasons but also as a means of fulfilling their Islamic obligation to assist their Muslim brothers in need. They give their zakat and Ushr and also ‘sadqa’ offerings to the militant groups or other needy Muslims including those affected by natural or man-made disasters.
Militant groups like al-Qaeda and Taliban use different methods to attract donations from Saudi Arabia and other rich Arab countries. They publish Arabic language magazines and make videotapes to show their battleground achievements and impress the donors to donate more for their cause.
However, sources of funding for the militants aren’t limited to Saudi Arabia or other Arab countries. The Taliban for example are also able to raise funds in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Traders and transporters have been regularly giving money to the Taliban because they have the reputation of maintaining peace and keeping roads and routes open and secure.
The militants have other sources of funding. They impose taxes and demand Ushr on crops in areas under their control. They also benefit from poppy-cultivation and drug-trafficking in certain areas in Afghanistan, though it must be said that warlords aligned with the Afghan government and the Nato forces along with government functionaries make more money than the Taliban as they control the cities, roads, airports and border checkpoints. Kidnappings for ransom are another lucrative business for certain militant factions, particularly the ones that have allowed criminals to join their ranks. The dramatic rise in kidnappings of government officials and wealthy people is evidence of the fact that the militants have found it lucrative and not difficult to organise.
The willingness of the governments in Afghanistan, Pakistan and other troubled countries to make deals with the militants-cum-kidnappers and pay ransom to secure release of the kidnapped persons has emboldened the militants and prompted them to organise more kidnappings, particularly of known and influential people.
The Taliban militants have found another lucrative way to raise funds by taking ‘protection’ money from US and Nato forces, private security companies and Afghan government officials and allowing safe passage to their goods and convoys. According to rough estimates, this amount comes to $150 million in Afghanistan. ‘Protection money’ is said to be the second largest source of funding the Taliban insurgency after the cut they reportedly received on drug production and trafficking.
The private donations that the Taliban receive from the Gulf countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, is said to be the third major source of funding. US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton had stated before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in December 2009 that "one of the major sources of funding for the Taliban is the protection money" paid by the US for the safe passage of ISAF/Nato goods on the supply routes in Afghanistan.
Controversy over language was one of the
By Zubair Torwali
A cursory look at the language issue in former East Pakistan shows the critical role of language in shaping the separatist movement which, at last, led to independence of Bangladesh in 1971.
During the colonial rule in India Urdu was ‘Islamised’ as the sole language of Muslims — ignoring the vast majority of East Bengal where the majority language was Bengali. This was a move which laid the foundation of independence of the then majority province of the United Pakistan.
Urdu and Islam were both deemed as binding forces to keep the newly-born state of Pakistan intact. Urdu was imposed as the national language of Pakistan ignoring the fact that majority of Pakistanis spoke other languages such as Bengali, Punjabi, Pashto, Balochi, Sindhi and scores others.
Urdu was made the lingua franca of Indian Muslims before the partition by some religious and social leaders. Even then the supporters of Bengali were opposed to it. In the Lucknow session of All India Muslim League in 1937, delegates from East Bengal opposed the idea of making Urdu as the sole representative language of Muslims. They were not heard then — and their demand continued to go unheeded even after the partition.
In 1947, a key resolution was passed in a summit in Karachi in favour of adopting Urdu as the sole state language and its exclusive use in the media and education. This summit sparked strong protests in East Pakistan and a long movement was started. The Bengali people wanted Bengali as official language and advocated its use in education and media.
But obsessed with the unnatural unity under a uniform language and culture, the leaders of Pakistan did not hear them. The then government made every effort to make Urdu as the sole state language removing Bengali even from the list of the subjects in the Superior Services Examinations. All the decisions were taken by obsessed political leaders and no expert and linguist was heeded to. The celebrated linguist of the time, Muhammad Shahidullah (from Bengal), was also ignored. He asserted that Urdu was not the native language of any part of Pakistan and it should be considered as a second language.
In the beginning of 1948, rallies were staged by the students of Dhaka University against the exclusion of Bengali that led to unrest. To settle the issue, the then governor general arrived in Dhaka on March 9, 1948. Unfortunately, the governor general saw the whole issue as a ‘conspiracy’ and firmly declared that ‘Urdu and Urdu only’ would be the state language as it had the spirit of Indian Muslim struggle. This further aggravated the situation.
Governor General Khawaja Nazimuddin also stuck to the Urdu-only policy and ignored the grave situation in East Pakistan. An All-Party Central Language Action Committee was formed on January 31, 1952 in Dhaka that called for strikes and agitation in East Pakistan. On February 21, the students of Dhaka University took out rallies violating Section 144. Enraged students blocked the way leading to the East Pakistan Legislative Assembly and tried to storm the building. Police opened indiscriminate fire and killed a number of students. This event put the whole East Bengal on fire.
The Awami League announced to commemorate February 21 as Martyrs Day. On the very first anniversary of the day, people across East Pakistan observed the day with black badges on their shoulders. More than 100,000 people gathered in Dhaka where they demanded the release of the prisoners arrested a year ago. They reiterated their demand of making Bengali as official language but the politicians of West Pakistan aggravated the situation by declaring that anyone demanding an official status for the Bengali language would be considered an enemy of Pakistan.
In 1954 the Prime Minister Muhammad Ali Bogra tried to resolve the issue by giving official status to the Bengali. In the 1956 Constitution, official status was given to Bengali through Article 214(1) stating that "the state languages of Pakistan shall be Urdu and Bengali".
The Bengali language issue was, to some extent, resolved in the 1956 Constitution, but it was too late as the Language Movement had by then given birth to other issues.
In Pakistan, over 60 languages are spoken. This diversity enriches the culture of Pakistan. Besides the regional/provincial languages — Punjabi, Pashto, Balochi and Sindhi — there is a wide range of languages in the whole country. Most of these languages are endangered because there is no effort to preserve and promote these languages on the national level.
The National Education Policy of Pakistan, in principle, supports the use of mother tongue in the early childhood education. It is also universally recognised by research that the use of mother tongue in education reduces the rate of drop-outs, ensure quality education and fosters peace and respect among the communities. Instead of a forced policy of homogenization, we need a policy where every ethnic minority can be taken on board.